Ethical and Policy Issues Surrounding the Donation of Cryopreserved and Fresh Embryos for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research

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The use of human embryos in human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research raises significant ethical and policy issues associated with their donation. Recent research conducted in several countries assesses the percent of persons with cryopreserved and fresh supernumerary embryos willing to donate them for research, their reasons for considering this option, and the concerns they raise about its personal import. Such research provides new insights into rising ethical and policy questions associated with embryo donation for hESC research that should be addressed. In response to such questions, it is argued here that consent to the donation of supernumerary embryos for hESC research should be sought in two or three stages, depending on whether fresh or frozen embryos are at issue, in order to provide patients and their partners with sufficient time and information before they make a final decision. In addition, steps should be taken to support the voluntariness of their decisions by having personnel other than the treating reproductive specialist or stem cell investigators solicit their consent. Prospective embryo donors should also be given a choice about the uses to which hESCs derived from their donated embryos will be put in order to honor their ethical convictions and ensure that there are sufficient embryos for this research. The well-being and rights of those who donate embryos for this research require the sort of support and protection that can be provided by an ethical and policy framework that allows hESC investigations to move forward according to standards that are transparent and that resound with public values.

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